We Can Do Better

Monday, June 11, 2018

In preparation for an upcoming move to the St. Elmo area, I have been closely following the proposed building of a new Publix store on South Broad Street. My current neighbors on the Northshore and I have in the recent past worked through a thorough vetting of a Publix grocery store in our community. We collaborated closely with the same developer, George Chase, on a significantly more difficult site than that on South Broad Street and found the developer and Publix to be flexible and responsive to the neighborhood's concerns and desires for a more "urban" plan as opposed to the suburban "big box" layout.

Nevertheless, at a recent community meeting on the proposed South Broad Street site, the community was told by the new site planner that the existing plan presented over a month ago was the only way Publix would commit to the South Broad Street site. After the current site planner's refusal to take virtually any of the community's concerns into account, a recent petition from the South Broad Neighborhood says: "Just as a new vision for South Broad Street has been announced and acclaimed, a developer is putting that vision in jeopardy. Should the developer get his way, the quality of life in and around South Broad and St. Elmo will be at risk, the opportunities for economic growth in the area will be diminished, and potential tax revenues will go away forever." 

The developer's site planner countered that after 18 attempts there is no way to make the Publix requirements work within the current zoning, yet he both publicly refused to seek a variance under the existing zoning and effusively boasted to the packed house last week how "great it was to be in America and have the right to speak out about public concerns" while doggedly refusing to allow comment toward the end of the meeting from those he considered to be in opposition to his plan. Such conduct is in my mind absolutely shameful. For while after years of community input that resulted in the current UGC, Urban General Commercial Zone, the developer's site planner insists on a re-zoning to C-2 Convenience Commercial Zone or "Publix will walk." 

This particular gentleman has resorted to similar "bullying" tactics to get his way on other projects due to either the inflexibility of the developer or his own lack of imagination. This issue is not about former Mt. Vernon Restaurant owner Jeff Messenger and his family's 60 plus years of service to the South Broad community. I personally am deeply saddened by Mt. Vernon's closing due to "medical issues" which I can completely understand as I share a similar malady to Jeff's; rather it is about the community's commitment to thoughtful Urban Design which our city and neighborhoods have rightfully undertaken. 

Let me be perfectly clear, while the local neighborhood currently has a top notch grocery store within less than three blocks of this site, I am an enthusiastic supporter and fan of the Publix chain. I have had the opportunity to appreciate their outstanding products and services first in Florida and now close to home in Chattanooga for over 50 years. They are at the very top of their field, but here they and the developer need to show both some of the flexibility they showed on the Northshore and the willingness to retain a better and more straightforward site planning team.

Garnet Chapin
Architect and Urban Designer


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